Thursday, March 6, 2008

Retrofitting Learning Environments for Today’s Hyper-Networked Students

Where did all my students go? This question is (or could be) asked by faculty all over the world. It is most appropriate in response to the migration of students from one professor to another (who listens to and understands them), or from one University to another (where everyone responds to them). It happens when students realize that their learning environment is the same one their parents had – boring, stifling, and very limited. In this presentation, we will discuss and demonstrate some recent technology developments that easily modernize teaching methods and quickly engage students. Learning environments should not be confined to the classroom – it’s time for them to be retrofitted . . . we’ll look at some examples.

This presentation was prepared for the West Tennessee Technology Symposium, March 6, 2008.

The slideshow is available here. This post was made to fill in some of the blanks from the slideshow (contained in the notes, but not visible without download).
Streaming Audio (to accompany the presentation for the most part)

Retrofitting Learning Environments means
. . . the ongoing practice of radically redesigning learning environments, including all participants, so learning is not stifled, hampered, or otherwise limited by unnecessary restrictions of space, time, topic, or any combination thereof. We need to seriously consider retrofitting the learning environment for today's students -- representatives of the Net Generation.

The term Net Generation was coined by Don Tapscott, in his book “Growing Up Digital.” Though many traditional students are part of the Net Generation, we should not be defining this group based on age, but based on their experiences and their exposure. The experience of the Net Generation gives them the ability to acquire information on virtually anything within moments. The Net Generation has been exposed to information-gathering techniques and technologies that place institutions of higher education in direct competition with companies like Google.

The students benefit when we retrofit the learning environment. The environment is more interactive and makes them more connected to it. These technologies encourage collaborative learning, which enhances the learning experience. Many students and future students are already using social networks. They will easily be able to adapt to the retrofitted environment using communication techniques they are familiar with. This familiarity and the learning environment designed with these tools will foster creativity and imagination – on both sides of the virtual podium.

So, what’s in it for the educators?

Try out a sampling of these solutions (from the slideshow) and see which fit your “style?” In the process, you are likely to experience the joy of learning something new. You are pretty much guaranteed to get envious looks from your peers when your students ask them why they haven’t retrofitted their learning environments yet. You will find that once these techniques are implemented, it will take less time to communicate more. And last but not least, you will have the satisfaction of equipping an entire generation with the tools and strategies needed to rule the world.

The power of a network is related to the amount of knowledge held by the individual members, how much they share with others (and re-use from others), the number of others with whom they share and the capability of the network to generate new knowledge.
For an organization, the equation suggests a few practical steps.
•Hire and retain people who have a high level of expertise (and therefore a large amount of knowledge).
•Hire and retain people who are natural sharers.
•Hire a diverse population of people so that the knowledge they have is varied; i.e., there is enough similarity so that they can understand each other, but not so much that they all know the same things.
•Put in place a work environment that encourages and enables knowledge sharing.

The bottom line is power is knowledge shared.

Through knowledge management you can increase the power of your organization exponentially to solve problems, to invent new methods, and to overcome physical distance (Smith, 2001).
Synergy happens when a group of diverse individuals form and collaborate. When forming a strategic team, it is important to find a variety of personality styles, backgrounds, and experiences. Only by interacting with a heterogeneous group can we experience the real power of collaboration. The results of these collaborations often contribute to the overall knowledge base. Previously established networks can be used to disseminate this collective knowledge.
Preparing for the Future

By capitalizing on the use of social networks while students attend college, faculty and other school leaders can not only strengthen the learning foundation for students, but can also maintain contact with students as they go out into the community following graduation.
College administrators can strategically use social networks to stay in contact with graduates in hopes of garnering a loyal cadre of alumni. For students, taking part in social networks while in college offers benefits for the future. Networking can be a means of establishing connections within the community they will enter upon graduation. As alumni, they can show loyalty to their alma mater by offering employment to future graduates, support to athletic organizations, and financial contribution to the institution.

So what is the Cost for use?

Email - $0 (you already have it or can get a good one for free.
Social Networking site - $0
Instant Messaging account - $0
Skype/Conference Call - $0 for Skype to Skype calls, and very cheap for Skype to phone – worldwide.
Text messaging on mobile phone $? Depends on provider. There are all kinds of plans, and unlimited is the new buzzword.

Communication with students . . .
(get your Master Card memory ready)

Absolutely priceless!

Michael Powell, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, when testing out Skype a few years ago, has been quoted as saying “Change is inevitable . . . I knew it was over when I downloaded Skype.” Skype is an example of a disruption that occurred in the telecommunications business. There are similar disruptions occurring in the higher education business today.

What do you think?


Allen, S., Deragon, J., Orem, M., & Smith, C. (2008). The Emergence of the Relationship Economy. Cupertino, CA: HappyAbout. Available at

Smith, R. (2001, May 9) Knowledge Management – The Road Ahead. Presented at "Unleashing the Power of Partnerships", the 2nd Conference & Expo of the Staff Exchange Program of The World Bank Group, Washington, D.C.. Available at

Links from presentation
Desire2Learn, Blackboard, ANGEL, Epsilen,, e-College, Element K, Joomla
Moodle, Gmail, Mail2Web, MTV Message Board, iVillage Message Board, Yahoo Message Board
Slideshare, Authorstream, Google Videos, YouTube videos, GCast, Odeo, BlogTalkRadio, Skype
Free Conference Calls, Evite, Meetup, TringMe, GrandCentral, Blogger, LiveJournal, Wordpress
Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, LiveMocha, Tribe, Bebo, Wiki, Open Courseware

1 comment:

Anita said...

Thanks for putting your presentation up on your Blog, it's great. I'm thinking along the same lines with regards to my approach to T&L in higher education. I'm also now giong to investigate a couple of the programs you mentioned. Twitter and slideshare! Can you tell me if you use anyof elgg, drupal, sandbox or another of these types of programs?